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Nora Kern

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A Busy Month for School Choice and New Reports

Later this month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other organizations across the country will celebrateNational School Choice Week (SCW). Leading up to the event, several organizations are releasing analyses of policies impacting the growth and quality of public charter schools. Last week, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released its Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) for 2013, which looks at more than 100 U.S. school districts and ranks the policies and practices that impact the quality of choices and level of competition created by school choice. Not surprisingly, nine of the top ten districts on the ECCI are also featured on our recently released top charter school communities report, showing the integral role public charter schools play in school choice. Today Students First is releasing  its state policy report card. Public charter schools play a prominent role in the scores related to parent empowerment. In order to receive a high rating, states must:
  • Promote charter establishment & expansion. Several states received higher scores for not having a cap on charter school growth, having non-district authorizers, a fast track authorization process for proven charter operators, and a high bar for replication/expansion for all schools.
  • Establish accountability for charters. States were recognized for requiring a performance-based contract and clear protocols for closing low-performing charter schools. Authorizers are required to submit an annual report to an oversight body for each school they oversee, and are in turn required to undergo an annual review by an outside entity—and low-performing authorizers will be suspended or sanctioned.
  • Enable equitable access to facilities; and
  • Finance charter facilities.
Finally the National Alliance will be releasing our fifth annual model law ranking that scores each state’s charter school law based on 20 essential components, including measures of quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and whether or not they cap charter school growth. Follow @charteralliance for the latest in charter school news and breaking reports and keep an eye on @schoolchoicewk to receive even more information on the contributions charter schools are making toward providing every family with a quality public school option. Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Strengthening Wisconsin’s Charter School Law

Across the country, support for public charter schools comes from both Democrats and Republicans. Like presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, President Barack Obama has praised public charter schools. Opposition to charter schools also sometimes comes from both parties. In fact, there are still portions of the country where “do not rock the boat” Republicans lock arms with Democrats that oppose charters to block common sense proposals for the expansion of high-quality public charter schools. Unfortunately, that’s the case in Wisconsin. As some of my fellow legislators continue to fight against proven reforms like charter schools, it’s clear to me that the boat needs rocking. During a recent discussion in the Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee, I was astounded when one of my colleagues (who is an educator, no less!) stated that education policy changes are unnecessary in Wisconsin because we outpace many states on our reading, science, and math scores. To me, this logic is flawed. Finding comfort in the fact we outpace other states while the country falls further behind in international rankings does a significant disservice to our students. Despite these hurdles, Wisconsin’s Senator Alberta Darling and I have introduced a bill that makes important changes to our weak charter school law (currently ranked #37 out of 43 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools). The changes we are proposing will provide more opportunities for Wisconsin’s students. The Assembly version of this bill, AB 549, will be heard in the Assembly Urban Education Committee on Thursday, January 9th. While the bill makes a number of changes, here are two of the most important ones: First, the bill will expand the types of entities that can serve as charter school authorizers.   Right now, the only entities allowed to authorize a charter school are the City of Milwaukee (in the Milwaukee Public School district only), the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Milwaukee (in Milwaukee County or an adjacent county), UW-Parkside (only one school in Racine County or an adjacent county), Milwaukee Area Technical College (they have never exercised the option and can only create a charter school in the Milwaukee Public School district), and local school boards. The bill would expand the authorization agents to also include any of the other 11 UW institutions and campuses, any of the other 15 technical colleges, and any of the state’s 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies. This change will better facilitate the creation of autonomous and accountable public charter schools across the state. Second, the bill will revise and clarify Wisconsin’s charter school categories. Currently, Wisconsin has three types of charters:
      1.    Those that are authorized by the City of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. These schools have autonomy and are similar to charters in most other states. They are referred to as “2r charters.”
      2.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and employ their own teachers.  These schools have autonomy and are also similar to charters in most other states.  They are referred to as “non-instrumentality charters.”
      3.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and that have their teachers employed by school districts. These schools don’t have much autonomy and are different from charters in most other states.
They are referred to as “instrumentality charters.” This arrangement has created a lot of confusion within the state about public charter schools. In an effort to clarify what a charter school is, our bill requires instrumentality charters to either become non-instrumentality charters or magnet schools, leaving the state with two categories of true charter schools. My passion for education reform stems from my experiences in the military, the business world, and as a father of four. As a military intelligence officer in the United States Army, I am convinced that our greatest national security risk, in the long term, is the complacency with the educational status quo. Charter schools offer innovation and focus on science, technology, engineering and math that can enhance the life experiences of our children. These innovative charter schools can propel our economy beyond the 21st century and ensure our nation’s defenders are not only America’s best and brightest, but also represent the world’s best and brightest. Representative Dale Kooyenga was elected to represent the 14th District for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2010.
Pamela Davidson

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A Win for Graduates of Virtual Charter Schools

Enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces is a tremendous opportunity for many young people to serve their country. However, for graduates of non-traditional high schools (virtual charter schools, online and blended learning schools, and home schools) this opportunity has been stymied due to a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy that limited the ability of students who attended non-traditional high schools to enlist in the military. Recently, the National Alliance was successful in working with Congress to secure a provision in federal law to change DOD’s current policy and make clear that all students that receive a state-issued diploma must be treated equally for the purposes of military enlistment. For many years, based on outdated data, DOD has treated students attending non-traditional high schools differently than those who attend traditional “brick and mortar” schools. In 2011, the National Alliance worked with congressional supporters to change this unfair policy. A provision in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required DOD to give all graduates with a state-issued high school diploma, including graduates of non-traditional high schools, the same opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in June 2012, DOD announced a new policy requiring students who graduated from non-traditional high schools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) than students who attended traditional high schools in order to be eligible for military service. Thus, creating a disadvantage for non-traditional high school graduates. In June 2013, U.S. Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rob Andrews (D-NJ), and Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to the House FY2014 NDAA bill to prohibit DOD from requiring different levels of attainment on any assessment or screening tool for all graduates, and prohibiting DOD from creating different standards on any assessment or screening tool based on the type of high school a student attended. In November, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered the same amendment to the Senate NDAA bill. In the end, this provision was included in the final NDAA bill, which was signed into law by the president last month. This change to DOD recruitment and enlistment policy is a big victory for the charter schools community—particularly graduates of virtual charter schools—because it ensures equal treatment for graduates who wish to join the U.S. military and serve their country. The National Alliance appreciates the work of these members of Congress who championed this effort on our behalf to ensure all graduates who want to serve in the U.S. military have an equal opportunity to enlist. Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Todd Ziebarth

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Seven Big Questions for Public Charter Schools for 2014

As we start 2014, the public charter school movement faces several big questions. Here are seven of them that we’ll be paying particularly close attention to this year:

1. Will New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina keep the schoolhouse doors open for the mostly poor and minority students being served so well by public charter schools in the city?

2. Will Kentucky become the 43rd state to enact a law allowing public charter schools?

3. Now that the majority of Detroit’s students attend charter schools, how will the charter community improve quality and more strategically engage with the larger public school system to ensure more students succeed (similar to what’s happening in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.)?

4. Will political leaders in states with the weakest charter school laws in the country, like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, finally rally behind the bold legislative changes needed to provide more high-quality charter options to their state’s students?

5. Will more school districts follow the lead of the Houston and Aldine Independent School Districts in Texas and stop looking at charters as competitors and start looking at them as incubators for innovative, successful classroom practices that can be adopted within traditional public schools?

6. As state budgets start to modestly improve, will states finally tackle the fiscal inequities that exist between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools?

7. Will the charter school law in Washington State be upheld by the Washington Supreme Court?

Keep your eye on the Charter Blog in 2014 as we keep you updated on these and other big questions facing public charters. Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Renita Thukral

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Washington State Charter School Law Upheld in Court

On December 12, the King County Superior Court in Seattle ruled in League of Women Voters of Washington v. State of Washington, finding that public charter schools are legally permissible in Washington State. As detailed in this blog previously, the case challenged the state constitutionality of Washington’s recently-enacted Charter School Act with seven different claims. Many of the arguments echoed those raised in constitutional challenges filed against charter school laws in other states; other claims relied on unique provisions of Washington’s constitution. The trial court upheld the act, with two exceptions. Judge Jean Rietschel held that the court was bound by a 1909 state supreme court decision (School District No. 20 v. Bryan) to find that charter schools are not “common schools” because they lack local school district-based voter control (a unique provision of the WA constitution). As a result, the court concluded charter schools are not eligible to receive construction funds reserved by the state for its “common schools.”  However, these two aspects of Washington’s Charter School Act are severable, meaning they can be struck down while the rest of the law remains intact. We expect plaintiffs to file an appeal, and we anticipate the case will proceed to Washington State Supreme Court by next summer. However, even if the state supreme court agrees with Judge Reitschel and affirms the trial court’s decision, the immediate impact will be minimal. Most charter applicants seeking to open schools in 2014 have proposed leasing space in existing schools or community facilities; they are not intending to construct or remodel facilities before opening their doors and therefore do not qualify for the common school construction funds. As this case winds its way through the legal process, charter school applicants are charging ahead. The Washington State Charter School Commission and Spokane Public Schools are continuing their consideration of 21 applications for eight spots. For the students and families looking to attend charter schools next year and the teachers, parents, and community leaders working to open them, last week’s ruling was a green light to proceed. Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Pamela Davidson

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Federal Budget Agreement: One Step Closer to More Funding for Charter Schools?

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Fiscal Year 2014 budget deal by a vote of 332 to 94; the Senate is expected to pass the budget later this week. The budget vote sets the framework for federal spending over the next two years and is the first step in moving the appropriations process forward. Specifically, the budget deal provides $63.4 billion in additional spending above sequestration levels for FY2014 and FY2015. But for the rest of this fiscal year (FY 2014), $22.36 billion will be provided for non-defense discretionary programs, such as education and health care programs, and every government agency and program outside the U.S. Department of Defense. Therefore, new funding will be spread thin. The next step is for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to work out how much federal funding will actually be spent on these various programs. In the wake of the House vote, House and Senate appropriators signaled that they will begin to work to bring the 12 separate spending bills that cover the different U.S. agencies and the programs they administer into a single omnibus appropriations package for FY2014. Congress must act before January 14, 2014 in order to prevent another government shutdown. What remains unclear is how much the appropriators will have to spend on individual education programs, including the Charter Schools Program (CSP). Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet parental demand. Nevertheless, an increase–even a slight increase to pre-sequestration funding levels–would be a win for public charter schools. Any new funding will help states grow the number of public charter schools and alleviate the estimated one million student names on public charter schools waiting lists. It has taken some time for Congress to reach a budget agreement. Now it’s time for Congress to put forward an appropriations bill that ensures federal resources are available to support the growing public charter school community. Over the week, the National Alliance will continue to work with members of Congress to educate them on the importance of CSP and the need for increased funding. Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Lisa Grover

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Bringing Charter Schools to Kentucky: New Poll Shows Strong Voter Support

This month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released results from a poll that surveyed 501 registered voters in the state of Kentucky. The results show that 71 percent of Kentucky voters—–nearly three-quarters—support creating public charter schools, with support crossing party lines and regions of the state. These findings are similar to the results of a June 2013 poll by the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which found that 82% of African American families support public charter schools as reform vehicles. The National Alliance poll also found that 82 percent of voters support providing Kentucky parents with more public school options when choosing a school for their child. In the Louisville area, support for more choices rises to 89 percent. And, a majority of voters believe that more options will improve the public school system. Kentucky is one of only eight states in the country without a law allowing public charter schools. A bill to create public charter schools has been considered by the Kentucky Legislature the past four sessions. It passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the House. The National Alliance is working with a growing coalition of local and national partners such as the Kentucky Charter Schools Association (KCSA), Kentucky Youth Advocates, Teach for America Kentucky, the Youth Justice Center, and legislators, parents, pastors, educators, and community activists to educate policymakers and the public about charter schools.  With our coalition partners, we will be bringing forth a charter school bill in the 2014 legislative session that reflects local community needs and best-in-class charter school policies from around the country. 2014 is the year to finally bring a law allowing public charter schools to Kentucky. As the new poll results make clear, that’s what voters in the state want. Lisa Grover is senior director for state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 
Renita Thukral

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School Spotlight: Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School Serves ELL Students Well

Earlier this year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a toolkit to help charter schools better serve English Language Learners, understand federal civil rights laws and regulations, and learn about best practices underway across the country. The Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS) is one of the schools profiled in the toolkit. Located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, FACTS is a K–8 school founded by Asian Americans United and the Philadelphia Folklore Project in 2005 with the goal of serving immigrant and refugee communities. In the 2012-13 school year, FACTS enrolled 479 students, approximately 68 percent of whom were Asian American, 20 percent were African American, 6 percent were multi- racial, 4 percent were Latino, and 2 percent were white. Sixteen percent of these students were classified as English Language Learners (ELLs), with approximately 70 percent of the student body speaking a language other than English at home. FACTS has seen remarkable success–meeting its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for four consecutive years and Annual Measurable Achievement Objective (AMAO) for ELL students as well. FACTS attributes their success to several best practices:
  • When FACTS opened, one of its founding organizations, Asian Americans United, already had a reputation among immigrant communities as a trustworthy resource and partner. Recruiting efforts included direct engagement with immigrant families in their resident neighborhoods. Over time, the school proved itself successful and parent demand rose quickly. In 2012-13, the school’s waiting list had over 400 students, including 140 hoping to enroll in kindergarten.
  • To evaluate each ELL student’s academic abilities, the school uses comprehensive assessment tools like:
    • a home language survey that captures nuanced information such as the dominant language for both father and mother;
    • a detailed assessment of state standardized test scores; and,
    • input from teachers, administrators, and parents.
  • ELL students are on a “flexible program model” customized to their individual needs and designed to integrate these students into general education classrooms as much as possible.
  • FACTS’s students are monitored for two years after they exit the ELL program. Additionally, to monitor its program’s overall success, FACTS conducts an annual evaluation based on students’ test scores and feedback from administrators, parents, teachers, and students.
  • FACTS translates the school’s application, flyers for events, and all notices sent to students’ homes. An interpreter language line service is available when parents call the school, and FACTS offers professional interpreters to ensure parents are able to participate fully for report card conferences and at school events.
FACTS is an excellent example of how charter schools have the ability to serve ELL students well. To learn more about the work of FACTS, visit http://www.factschool.org/.  To learn about other schools and best practices, view the toolkit here. This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ recent publication, Serving English Language Learners:  A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. Renita Thukral is vice president for legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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New York City Charter School Center Launches Replication Program

For the past decade New York City has been home to some of the most successful charter schools in the country. This week the New York City Charter School Center unveiled a new program that will work with charter school supporters across the country to help create 25,000 new high-quality public charter school seats by the 2017-18 school year by replicating existing high-quality school models. The Replicating Quality Schools: Launching the Next Generation of High Quality Schools initiative will provide the skills, information, and resources needed to school leaders and emerging networks hoping to open new high-quality charter schools or expand their operations. The program is intended to be launched in four cities within the next three years. The first anticipated city is New Orleans, where the eight-week training program will kick off this October. With almost one million names on charter school waitlists nationwide, this initiative can’t come soon enough. Learn more at http://www.nyccharterschools.org/content/replicate
Pamela Davidson

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The Federal Budget: What it Means for the Charter Schools Program

Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) released their topline budget agreement for Fiscal Year 2014, and the House and Senate are scheduled to vote on it in the coming days. While the specifics for programs funded through the Department of Education are not available yet, here is a short summary of what’s at stake and why we must protect funding for charter schools. The new FY2014 budget will include overall spending levels for the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). Funding for USDOE is critical, since so many charter schools receive Title I and IDEA funds. And of course, new and expanding charter schools have prospered under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides start-up funds and facilities support for new and existing charter schools. While we wait for more details about how the funds will be allocated in FY2014, the Obama administration is already at work on its FY2015 budget request, which is due the first Monday in February. In November, the National Alliance joined with a coalition of charter support organizations, charter school operators, and national partners and advocacy groups on letters requesting $330 million for the CSP in the president’s FY 2015 budget. In the coming months, the charter school community will play a critical role in educating members of Congress about the importance of the CSP.  The CSP, which is currently funded at $241million, serves several functions, including new school start-ups, the replication and expansion of successful charter schools, support for facilities, and dissemination activities. This chart provides an overview of each of these grants within the CSP, their current funding levels, and their purpose:
Federal Charter Schools Program, FY 2013
csptop2
  • SEA Grants & Non-SEA Grants: Competitive grants are awarded from the U.S. Department of Education to State Education Agencies to make subgrants to charter schools.  When SEAs do not apply or are denied, individual charter schools can apply. Funding is used to help cover charter school start-up costs.
  • Replication & Expansion Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to nonprofit charter management organizations that have demonstrated success, including improved academic achievement.
  • National Leadership Activities Grant: Competitive grants provide funding for projects of national significance to improve charter school quality, as well as money to disseminate information about the projects.
  • State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grant: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to states to help cover charter school facilities costs.
  • Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program: Grants are awarded on a competitive basis to public and nonprofit entities that enhance the ability of public charter schools to raise private capital to acquire, construct, renovate, or lease academic facilities.
Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet current demand. With nearly one million student names on waiting lists for charter schools, a strong federal investment is critical for the movement. As we continue our work advocating for charter school funding, we urge the charter school community to join our efforts to educate their members of Congress about the importance of the CSP. Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Kim Kober is the federal policy coordinator.